Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

On an ‘Outside’ Being Better than Another

On an ‘Outside’ Being Better than Another

Sunday, 20 September, 2020 - 09:00

Among the detestable aspects of the Lebanese crisis that rear their head at every defining juncture: the role of the “outside.” In line with its narrative, the axis of resistance explains that role this way: the United States and France interfere in Lebanon; rather, they play a tutelary if not colonial role. Though the page of colonialism’s history has turned, merely mentioning it calls for exclaiming “God forbid!’’

Those who make this critique do not consider the Iranians an outside player, nor are they apprehensive about other roles played by powers from the outside, like Russia’s intervention in Syria, just a stone’s throw away from Lebanon, which resulted, among other things, in rebuilding a city like Aleppo!

Let us say, then, the “outside’s role” critique does not hold since it is an “outside’s” rhetoric. That is, it has no credibility, regardless of who is making the criticism. True, national anthems and some political rhetoric condemn this role, defame it and mobilize the jargon of nationalism and pride against it, and it’s also true that ideally, there would be no outside role whatsoever. However, regardless of the utopian nationalism, everyone is equal when it comes to betting on some kind of outside.

The fact is that a small country cannot but be this way, to say nothing about a county where there is little, even non-existent, consensus, where groups have conflicting definitions of the ‘‘inside’’ itself.

For those who think that the globalization has done away with some of the national state’s functions, this inevitably entails a growth in the outside’s role, and things are moving further in this direction. And we know, in situations of tyranny, civil wars or major crises of any kind, seeking external intervention becomes a foregone conclusion. As for invoking national sovereignty to repudiate it, its only consequence is keeping things as they are: the persistence of war and tyranny.

The actual controversy then, regardless of the enthusiasm and nationalist rhetoric, is not about the outside having a role, but determining: what role and what outside?

Let’s openly say that every outside has its constituency in Lebanon, and each of the two constituencies calls itself patriotic. There is widespread support for a more significant role for the West, especially the United States and France, and not insignificant public support for a larger role for Syria and Iran, which Russia and China may complement. Support for the latter invokes two arguments, one about “the region”, that is, everything that is not Western, and another regarding the conflict with Israel.

This overview is not presented to discuss these two pretexts, but to present the arguments that correspond to them, whether explicitly or implicitly, in the narrative that entails a preference for the West.

The constituency for a more expansive role for the West is more cross-sectarian, by far, than that of the defenders of the Iranian – Syrian role. There are at least two reasons for this: one is that their attachment to the West is one to model that is easily described, whether one loves or hates it, as universal. It is a way of life before being an approach to politics. Supporters of the axis of resistance wish this model and its lifestyle for themselves, as reflected in where they hope their children emigrate and educate themselves and the choices of treatment they seek when they fall ill. As for the second reason, Western powers, in contrast to the nineteenth century, are not religious or sectarian in the same way as the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

Favoring the Iranian or Syrian role inevitably means fealty to the Iranian and Syrian regimes, particularly the two individuals who sum up their regimes and societies, Ali Khamenei and Bashar al-Assad. As for favoring a Western role, it is not contingent upon fealty for a specific Western regime, and it may be accompanied by sharp criticism of Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron or others.

In other words: while the Iranian – Syrian model has nothing but a political system and a worshiped leader, the Western model encompasses cinema, means of transportation, literary ideas and sciences. As for the policies and the political system itself, they occupy a no more than modest position in this model.

Furthermore, a Western role does not entail immersing the Lebanese in wars and conflicts. Its politicians do not arm sectarian parties and organizations and would exclusively arm the Lebanese army. If any Western capital were asked about its vision of an ideal Lebanon, the axiomatic answer would be: a parliamentary democracy, not a system based on a single party and an absolute ruler.

On top of that, the history of our relationship with the Western model, including the construction of public administration, economic institutions and educational networks, does not resemble that of our relationship with the Iranian – Syrian model: assassinations, bombing and militias that destroyed Lebanon time after time, without benefiting the region or the Palestinians, who were used, and are being used, as a fruitful pretext.

It is indicative that the axis of resistance, ultimately, wants nothing more than to have discussions with the West, especially the United States. This is not only true for the Syrian – Iranian model’s Lebanese admirers but also applies to the model’s leaders in Tehran and Damascus, whose eyes are glued on the American elections.

This difference between the two outsides should be emphasized loudly, in repudiation of those who blackmail their opponents with accusations of “treachery” and “subservience”, but also in response to those who claim that this difference is obvious, as it should be emphasized because it is obvious.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks